By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
Okay, so last week I wrote about why you should follow US-based soccer leagues, and more specifically Major League Soccer. That belief is built off the assumption that you really enjoyed following the US Men's National Team during the World Cup. I realize that sports fans, and more specifically the current generation of sports fans, are apt to follow individual players rather than specific clubs or teams. I don't know if this is a result of free-agency where players change teams so quickly or just the fact that athletes are a brand in-and-of themselves with today's culture.
The other side of the coin is that many of us grew up following specific teams. Most often they were local, though sometimes not. It might have been the Seattle Mariners or Dallas Cowboys, Denver Nuggets or maybe even the New York Islanders. If you grew up in the South it was likely a college team. University of Kentucky basketball or 'Bama football. Whatever random, odd specific thing it was that drew your favor to a team, if you were like me, you liked one team more than the rest, while players came and went.
Keeping these two thoughts in mind, I decided to build a post that melds the two ideas together. Breaking down clubs across the league, highlighting names of importance and doing it all without giving away a predisposition. I present this all without commentary in the hopes that you can form your own opinions about teams and players. Perhaps some ideas about what teams or players might interest you and drive you to finding out more about them.
I did this all by collecting detailed club 'characteristics' as provided by WhoScored. This hopefully gives you some insight as to how teams play. As an example, most that follow the NFL know the Pittsburgh Steelers have long been a team that is built around the defense, being able to run the ball, and overall physicality. How do we take that and compare it to what the LA Galaxy do? What are their tendencies as a club? How do we as soccer fans quickly relate their style?
Players' information comes by way of the analytical site Squawka and their individual player performance score. Understand that this score comes by way of quantified data and doesn't necessarily calculate everything. Both sets of information compiled are based upon data facilitated by Opta. Each have draw backs to the way they interpret their conclusions.
Without further ado here are the 19 MLS clubs, their profiles and some of their important core players.
Top-15 Attackers in MLS
Top-15 Possession based players in MLS
Top-15 Defenders in MLS
Top-15 Players 21 and Under
Top-15 Players in MLS
These numbers are all from a week ago, so if you look up on Squawka now you will notice a few slight differences. You'll probably also notice that there are a lot of repeat names on these lists. The big names that you saw in the World Cup and then some new ones. One name that surprised me that didn't make any of the lists is also the guy whose stock got the biggest boost from the World Cup, DeAndre Yedlin. But, I'll reference Mr. Matthew Doyle the Airmen Chair Analyst of MLSoccer.com from twitter.
Yedlin is certainly a growing name in MLS and maybe we'll get to him in another post. Unfortunately while he's an exciting young talent, Squawka and their formula has not been keen with how he's performed to this point in the season. We still love him, and that's what's important.
Looking at other major sports in the US, MLS doesn't really have that Lebron James or Mike Trout icon. There is no dominant player that simply bends the game to his will on this side of the pond; though watching the second half of Seattle in Portland one might mistake Clint Dempsey as that individual.
Many of you know both Michael Bradley and Dempsey are electric talents in this league and each mean a great deal to their clubs and their fans. I would say that the man they call Deuce is more of a Dirk Nowitzki type of player. Creative, probably underrated in a lot of ways from the international perspective and works incredibly hard. Bradley, on the other hand, is a Chris Paul type. A distributor that picks out passes, unlocks defenses, able score goals and is one of the best defensive talents in the league.
Others could compare either of these two to a myriad of other American sports figures, these were just the two that came to my mind. As they aren't the end all and be all of their craft but still very good players. The take away here though is simply MLS isn't a league of stars. It's a league of very good players with a bevy of depth spread across the league.
The league is growing with world renown players like Kaká headed to Orlando for the 2015 season. As well as New York City FC already splurging on a couple of legendary footballers in David Villa and Frank Lampard for next season too. Major League Soccer is adding to their wealth of talent already available and with it fans from around the world. Now is a great time to get to know a league that is privy to some of the most unique talent that is largely under appreciated across the world.